Operationalising Intelligence for Global Missions

Operationalising Intelligence for Global Missions


The tenth edition of Geoint Symposium was held at Tampa, Florida, recently

GEOINT 2013* Symposium, organised annually by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), was held at Tampa Convention Centre, Tampa, Florida, from April 14-17, 2014. The symposium, which is renowned for its keynote addresses, educational and training sessions and exhibition, provided an excellent opportunity for networking to the geointelligence community. The conference was originally scheduled to be held in October 2013. However, it had to be postponed due to the unprecedented US federal government shutdown. It was therefore held in April this year, with most of the original agenda intact. The symposium was spread over four days. Day 1, designated as Geoint Foreword, was the symposium’s pre-conference session dedicated to innovation, emerging trends and academia. The session was introduced by Dr Darryl Mordock, Vice President Professional Development, USGIF. Dave Snowden, founder and chief scientific officer of the consulting firm Cognitive Edge (not to be confused with Edward Snowden!) delivered the first keynote. He suggested the use of human sensors from ordinary life to create a network. Open source data produced by human geography is valuable, he emphasised. This was followed by selected brief talks, called ‘lightening talks’, on subjects such as crowd sourced imagery, maritime geoint and race cars. The afternoon was dedicated to talks on subjects such as crowd sourced imagery, interoperability and special ops.

Whistle Blowing and Other Challenges

On Day 2, the first keynote address was delivered by James R Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), US, who said that the past 18 months, marked by ‘Sequestration, Snowden, Syria and Shutdown’, have been the toughest in his 50+ years in the intelligence business. Though he was happy with the way the intelligence community responded to these challenges, he was extremely critical of the adverse and exaggerated media coverage to the national security ‘leaks’.

Shift to Immersive Intelligence

Director Letitia Long, National Goespatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in her keynote address spoke about the vision of the NGA. She recommended a shift to ‘immersive’ intelligence. “By immersion I mean living, interacting and experimenting with the data in a multimedia, multi-sensory experience with geoint at its core,” she stated. Intelligence analysts need to be able to completely get involved in the intelligence gathering activity and have the cooperation of all available sources and agencies. Only through collaboration could the challenges be overcome. Investment in research and technology should be focussed James R Clapper, Director of National Inetelligence (DNI), US Letitia Long, Director of National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) on persistence, anticipatory analysis and immersive intelligence, she said.

Be Prepared for Change

Lt Gen Michael Flynn, Director, Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), highlighted the need for intelligence agencies to be able to predict change and warned their governments to be prepared accordingly. One issue of concern was increasing world population, resulting in increased urbanisation, shrinking resources and facilities, leading to global tensions. He predicted that water could be a cause of conflict in future.

Joint Collaboration Need of the Hour

Taking centre stage on Day 3, Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen Lloyd J Austin, said that despite the large jurisdiction of his command and the heightened tensions in number of regions, he was not perturbed, since he was assured of reliable and timely intelligence. He recalled instances in his career when intelligence inputs had helped him to suitably plan operations. “The keys to success are continued integration, cooperation and collaboration,” Austin said, referring to the military and intelligence agencies.

Space, Not Sky, is the Limit

In her keynote, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Director Betty Sapp stated that the intelligence community can literally rise to higher levels by moving into space. For the last decade or so, NRO has been working with sensors on airborne platforms operating at 50,000 ft with excellent results, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. With sensors in space, it would provide much larger, near global access. She described some key NRO R&D initiatives, such as High Altitude LiDAR Operational Equipment (HALOE), presently functioning from airborne platforms, but would eventually move to space. Sentinel Enterprise Programme is another innovation, meant for ground infrastructure, which will enable NRO to be more responsive and predictive when using its space assets. She concluded her talk by stating that a stable and capable work force was of prime importance for NRO, to enable it to deliver its future goals.

Special Forces Biggest Users of Geointelligence

There were two keynotes on Special Operations on Day 4. Admiral William McRaven, Commander US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in his keynote explained that events in one part of the world have an effect in other regions as well. His command troops operate globally, currently employed in as many as 84 countries. Accurate and timely geointelligence is critical to retaining supremacy. Quite often, special forces operate in conjunction with local regional partners, particularly in the war against terrorism, and sharing intelligence with them is a complex issue. In his keynote address, Lt Gen Joseph L Votel, Commander Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), talked about the tremendous change that has taken place in the way that intelligence is gathered, analysed and provided to the war fighter. Intelligence and operations are so intertwined that one cannot do without the other. He referred to the difficulty in extracting useful intelligence from the vast amount of data available. He emphasised the importance of data analysts, stating that technology may have helped develop numerous techniques, these would never be able to replace the experience based on- the- ground decision making or the intelligence analyst-operator relationship. Special Forces operate in a variety of different terrains and situations including anti-terrorism and combating cyber crime. Their demand and dependence on intelligence is much more than other conventional troops.

Need for US to Invest in Space

Representative CA Dutch Reppersperger, who is a Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, recommended greater investment in space industry. He wanted that US should be ahead of Russia and China in space technology. Government must not compete with industry, he suggested. Instead, government should focus more on R&D and let the industry look at the commercial side, such as supplying imagery or satellite launches.

‘Do More With Less’

Lt Gen Raymond Palumbo, Director for Defence Intelligence (Warfighter Support) in his keynote addressed the challenge of being able to deliver in an environment of shrinking budgets. He recommended internal housekeeping as the solution, taking stock of existing assets and ensuring their optimum utilisation. Another technique to overcome shortage of resources is prioritizing – focussing only on the most critical requirements.

Need to Address Both Traditional and Non-traditional Geoint Methods

The last keynote of the symposium was delivered by Robert Cardillo, Deputy Director for national intelligence for intelligence integration. In his address, he spoke about the “Accurate and timely geoint is critical to retaining supremacy. Special Forces operate in conjunction with local partners and sharing intelligence with them is a complex issue” need to adopt both traditional and non-traditional geoint methods. Apart from the threats highlighted by other speakers, he said that there was a need to keep a special eye on the Soviets, particularly in the light of recent developments in Ukraine. He stressed on the importance of integration and sharing within the intelligence community. Towards that end, he felt that the symposium was a great opportunity for networking between all sections of the geoint community.

National Security Workshop

Geoint symposium conducted its first ever National Security Workshop on public safety. Speaking at the workshop, Maj Gen William N Reddel III, Adjt Gen of New Hampshire, recounted numerous instances in the last 10 years when the geoint community had given invaluable intelligence inputs for national security and public safety. There have been lapses too, the 9/11 attack being one of them, where the official report had found shortcomings with the intelligence community. Inadequate sharing of information between various agencies and organisations was a lapse then. Speakers at the workshop felt that this problem has yet not been fully addressed. Jack Dangermond, President Esri, delivered the keynote address at the workshop, which had seven panelists representing various security and public safety agencies. He described the global security environment and highlighted the flash points. With this backdrop, he emphasised the need for a common language for all those who were required to respond in crisis situations. Web GIS, which leverages services such as mobile apps, Big Data and cloud computing, could be the key enabler, he felt.

During the afternoon sessions, the symposium organised professional development training totaling 30 hours. Subjects covered included SAR, mobile geoint tradecraft, spatial literacy, predictive threat analysis/detection and a course for analysts and operations officers. Certificates of attendance were given to the participants.


This was the 10th edition of the symposium, which has grown considerably in size and stature over the years. The head count this year was close to 4000 delegates from over 40 countries. There were as many as 300 exhibitors from industry, academia and government agencies. It was a nostalgic moment for Stu Shea, Founder and Chairman of the Board, who stepped down. He has seen the USGIF grow from humble beginnings to a 240 member organisation. Keith Masback, CEO of USGIF, was appreciative of members, sponsors, speakers and attendees for their support, despite the sequestration and the federal shutdown resulting in the postponement of the event.